Former CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested Sunday the Obama administration’s apparent offer to release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to salvage the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is a desperate effort that could open the door for criminal spies like Edward Snowden to walk away free.
“I certainly don’t think it's a good idea to keep some people at the table,” Hayden, a Bush administration appointee and former NSA director, told “Fox News Sunday.”
“It’s almost a sign of desperation to throw this in the pot, offer a third view. If this were to take place … people in the intelligence community would not be hearing the name Pollard, they would be hearing Snowden.”
Last year, Snowden, then a National Security Agency contractor, gave news outlets classified documents that exposed the federal government’s massive, global surveillance efforts, which include data on the phone calls and Internet activities of Americans and foreign leaders worldwide.
Snowden is charged with espionage and is living under asylum in Russia in what is largely considered the biggest security leak in U.S. history.
“I believe this kind of behavior could be politically negotiated away,” Hayden also said.
U.S. officials have indicated that Secretary of State John Kerry offered the early release of Pollard during talks with both sides last week in Israel, in an effort to restart the U.S.-led two-party peace talks, which have stalled over the delayed release of Palestinian prisoners.
Pollard, an American Jew, was a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy when he gave thousands of classified documents to his Israeli handlers. The Israelis recruited him to pass along U.S. secrets including satellite photos and data on Soviet weaponry in the 1980s.
He was arrested by FBI agents in Washington in 1985 after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He pleaded guilty to leaking classified documents to Israel and received a life sentence. President Obama and his predecessors have refused to release Pollard despite pleas from Israeli leaders.
Apart from any negotiations in the meantime, Pollard could be released from prison on Nov. 21, 2015 -- 30 years after his arrest. He has been serving his sentence at a federal facility in Butner, N.C.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday: “What I can affirm to you is that the issue of Jonathan Pollard and his disposition is something that has been frequently raised by Israeli officials. And all I can tell you is that the president has not made a decision to release Mr. Pollard and that he is continuing to serve his sentence, having been convicted of espionage."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.